Help Your LD Student Have a Successful Trip To the Library­

Libraries are supposed to be fun places. But if you are dyslexic or have a problem reading and spelling, they might not be so much fun. I work at a school for dyslexic students. We have a nice sign in the school library titled, “How to Find a Book.” Under the title is a list of where to find the different kinds of books according to the Dewey Decimal System. Several years ago, however, a student covered the sign with a new sign. It reads: “Ask Mrs. Simpson.” (See a photo of the sign, below.)

Put yourself in this frame of mind. You need to find a science book on photosynthesis. You know you need to type in either “science” or “photosynthesis” in order to find out what books are available. You think, “How do I spell science? Is that ‘scince,’ or ‘cince’? Never mind. I’ll type in photosynthesis. Yeah, right!” And then, you go ask Mrs. Simpson.

Students who do not read and spell well need help in a library. As a parent, you can spend some time planning a strategy with your child before he or she visits a school or public library. Find out what she needs to find. Make a list of search words she can enter into the card catalog. Once she finds the book titles, assist her in writing them down along with the call numbers. Then, assist her in looking for the books on the shelf.

Students need to know that it is okay to ask the librarian for help; most librarians, in fact, are very willing to help! If you are not there with your child, remind him that he can also ask the librarian how to spell a search term. The trick is to assist him beforehand, so that he doesn’t become so frustrated that he gives up before he even finds what he needs.

Finally, make sure you take trips to the library just for fun. Even poor readers can find books and videos at the library that they will enjoy. Many libraries have electronic versions of books that can be checked out. Some of these books have text-to-speech capability so that everyone can read them. As a parent of an LD [learning disabled] child, you may need to structure positive experiences at the library until your child feels confident enough to go it alone.

Editor’s note: April is School Library Month and this week, April 8-14, is National Library Week. Throughout the month, and this week in particular, public and school libraries—and many school classrooms—are celebrating by holding special events for kids and families. To find out what’s happening in your area, call your local library. And don't forget to ask your child’s teachers about any curriculum plans at school for celebrating library week and month. In the meantime, enjoy this printable worksheet: A Visit to the Library, or read about having a library scavenger hunt with your child.

 

 

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Put Colorful Magnetic Letters to Work With These 4 Tips!

Is your refrigerator covered in colorful magnetic letters? If so, put those letters to work! Magnetic letters are a great tool to help your young reader practice sight words, spelling, and reading. 

In my classroom we have an activity called “Build and Write.” We use sets of magnetic lowercase letters and small cookie sheets to “build” spelling words before writing them. Building the word first, with magnetic letters, helps a child see the word in its entirety before writing it down on paper.

Here are 4 fun yet simple ways to help your child learn spelling and reading skills with these versatile tools:

1. Practice spelling or sight words by having your child “build” them on a cookie sheet, refrigerator, or other metal surface.

2. Start with a “base” word to help your child recognize word families  For example, put an “an” on the sheet and have your child say the word “an.” Then put a “c” in front of the “an” to make a new word, “can.” Continue with other beginning letter substitutions (Dan, fan, man, ran, etc.)

3. Use the letters to leave a short note or message for your child on the refrigerator.  Let them “answer” you with their own short message.

4. Use a simple word from your child’s spelling list. Put the letters of the word in random order on the cookie sheet, or other metal surface.  Then ask your child to “unscramble” the letters to correctly spell the word.

Magnetic letters can be especially beneficial to encourage literacy in young children who are not quite ready to write with pencil and paper. Don’t have magnetic letters yet for your child? Inexpensive sets can be found at most discount or dollar stores, or ordered online.

 

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A "Synonym" is Not Something You Put on Toast!

 A few years ago, when I was introducing word categories to my 1st grade students, I asked if anyone knew what a “synonym” was. I called on one student who was enthusiastically waving his hand. “Oh yes,” he said. “I know, I know. ‘Synonym’ is what you put on toast with butter!”

 I couldn’t help but smile as I started my lesson.

Three categories of words can make creative writing more exciting and interesting for your young child. They are: antonyms, synonyms, and homophones.

Antonyms are words with opposite meanings.  Day and night, up and down, and stop and go, are three examples.  They are important words to know when writing, because knowing opposites automatically doubles your child’s vocabulary! Children as young as 3 years old can grasp the concept of opposites…and love to recite them for you.

Synonyms are words that have the same meaning. Small and little, happy and glad, large and big are all synonyms. Knowing synonyms can help an emerging writer avoid using the same words over and over again in a story.

Homophones are words that sound alike, but have different definitions and spellings. One and won, two and too, days and daze are some examples. “Dear Deer:  A Book of Homophones” by Gene Barretta is a great story. It uses homophones and animal characters in a comical way to reinforce the concept.

 

Understanding different word choices can often turn a reluctant writer into a creative and confident one! For more reading and writing practice, see our printables for Grade 1-2.

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Introduce Your Young Reader to the “H Brothers”

Once young readers learn to blend letter sounds, they can easily sound out a new or unfamiliar word—that is until they encounter one of the “H Brothers!”

 

The “H Brothers” are consonant digraphs. Consonant digraphs consist of two consonants, joined together to make a single, distinct phonetic sound.

 

However, “consonant digraph” is not a term you want to use with young readers. So, in my first grade classroom they are known as the “H Brothers.”

 

The five most common “H Brothers” are “th,” “ch,” “sh,” “wh,” and “ph.”

 

Here are some fun and memorable sentences to help your child decode the sounds of the “H Brothers:”

 

  • Theo is thinking about sticking out his tongue every Thursday. (“th”) 

 

  • Charlie is a train engineer, and likes to say “Choo,choo.” (“ch”)

 

  • Sheldon is shy and likes it quiet.  Shhh! (“sh”)

 

  • When Whitman tries to whistle, all that comes out is “Whhh.” (“wh”)

 

  • Phil likes to practice phonics on his phone. (“f”)

 

Help your child practice one “H Brother” at a time. Have her look for the “Brothers” in the beginning, middle, or end of words.  (thin, feather, path

 

Let your child draw pictures of the “H Brothers,” and help him write the sounds they make. Keep the pictures handy for a quick reference. 

 

Automatic recognition of letter sounds, blends, and digraphs will dramatically increase your child's reading fluency rate. 

 

A good reading fluency rate is so important because it directly leads to increased reading comprehension.

 

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Valentine's Day Activities and Crafts To Make With Your Kids

Looking for a special Valentine’s Day activity or craft for your children to make or for you to make together? Look no further—we’ve compiled a variety of gift ideas through images we’ve pinned to our SchoolFamily.com Pinterest page. They’re just right for your child’s classmates, teacher, or that very special someone. Best of all, only a few of them contain sugar!

 

While many schools have banned the exchange of sugary Valentine’s Day treats, giving out candy-free cards and small gifts is typically acceptable in schools (best to double-check with your child’s school, however). Just be sure there are no hurt feelings by insisting that your child create a Valentine for each child in her class—or, have her plan to exchange Valentines with select friends outside of school.

 

Gifts For Your Child’s Friends and/or Classmates

Since we’ve already established that Valentine’s gifts for the class must include every student, these crafts, while simple, will take your child a bit longer to create. When I did these types of Valentine’s gifts with my children, I’d plan ahead and have them do a few each night. That way, the kids wouldn’t get tired and bored, yet the gifts would get finished without me making them all at the 11th hour!

 

How about custom-made Friendship Bracelets for everyone in the class? These are simple to make, differentiated for girls and boys (to compensate for the boys’ potential yuck factor—“Ick, a bracelet?”), and personalized. You and your child can create your own hand-written verse, written or printed on small cut-out cards (how about heart-shaped?), or you can download the blogger’s pdf template with the verse, “Our class would knot be the same without you.” Braid some brightly colored string (or save time by using single strands of colored ribbon), and weave them through the cut-out cards. Have your child sign each one, i.e. “From Jonathan,” and you’re done. These are sure to be a real crowd pleaser.

 

Valentine’s Day Crayon Cards might be one the most clever crafts I’ve seen in some time. When my kids were little, I always seemed to have broken crayons lying around, and I’d find them in the weirdest places—under the baseboard in my kitchen, under my kids’ beds, under our baseboard-heating units, in planters—you name it. And that’s not counting the mashed up broken crayons pieces at the bottom of our crayon container. Well this craft activity finally finds a good use for them. Read the directions for this simple project: dice up the crayons/pieces; bake them in heart-shaped molds (!); attach them to small decorated cards, and your child has beautiful, colorful, personalized Valentines for the whole class.

 

Teacher Gifts

If you’re never made (or seen) one of these Candy Bar Poem cards, you’re in for a treat. Depending on your child’s age, he can create most of this gift by himself, writing the words and then gluing the wrapped candy bars in the right places (you might need to watch and be sure he leaves enough room for the size of each candy bar).

 

Another adorable (and tasty) teacher gift is this wide-mouthed jar filled with homemade cookies. It’s easy to make and carries a personal message when you attach a gift tag created by your child (or save the step and download pretty tags from this template. Use a heart-shaped hole punch to make a hole at the top of the tag, and attach the note to the jar with brightly colored string or ribbon and Voila! you’ve got a lovely gift for your child’s teacher.

 

If your child’s teacher is known to have a sweet tooth, this easy-to-make gumball or candy-dispensing machine is for you. Created by painting and decorating an inverted small or large clay pot and matching saucer, this little machine will get a workout on the desk of your child’s teacher.

 

A Gift for the Birds (no, really!)

Anxious to avoid the commercialism of the day? Make this Valentine's Day craft with your child and feed the birds at the same time. This activity takes more time and requires a few days for the finished product to be complete, but once done, you and your child can hang these heart-shaped treats made of birdseed on branches throughout your yard. Perhaps you could obtain permission for your child to bring some to school to hang on branches outside student classrooms? Read the clearly written (and super easy) directions and have fun!

 

Just the Chocolate, Please

Let’s face it: For many of us it just isn’t Valentine’s Day without receiving—or giving— something chocolate. To satisfy that craving, we have a variety of sweet Valentine’s treats. How about Conversation Hearts on a stick, made of red velvet chocolate cake; Outrageous Chocolate Cookies; Cookie Kisses made with heart-shaped Dove chocolate treats instead of chocolate kisses; and Cake Pops, easy to make using chocolate cake mix, to name a few.

 

If chocolate’s not your thing, how about some Raspberry Cream Cheese Heart Tarts?

 

Not into sweets at all? Okay, place your Valentine’s Day order in advance so your kids can make you this Valentine’s Day Egg in a Basket for breakfast!

 

A Healthy Valentine’s Day Snack

Strawberry Marshmallow Fruit Dip will have your child eating fruits and getting protein and other nutrients from reduced fat cream cheese and fat-free Greek yogurt. (Okay, there’s also marshmallow crème, which isn’t especially nutritious, but it’s for Valentine’s Day, after all).

 

Go wild with heart-shaped fruits and veggies, served on popsicle sticks, along with fat-free or lowfat dip. Or this healthy Sweetie-Tweetie sandwich. For breakfast, stir things up by making this heart-shaped hard-boiled egg!

 

What other crafts are you making with your kids for Valentine's Day? Share your Pinteresting activities below in the comments!

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5 Ways to Help Your Advanced Reader

 

Last week I wrote about struggling young readers, and offered some strategies to help these children succeed.  But, what if your child is an above-level reader?  How do you keep an advanced reader challenged and engaged? How do you keep the momentum going?

 

By the end of January you should have a pretty good idea of your child’s reading level. If unsure, ask your child’s teacher. At this time of the school year, teachers often see student’s reading skills “click,” and reading really takes off.  It’s so exciting to witness! 

 

Here are 5 things parents can do to support and challenge above-level readers:

 

  • Ask your child's teacher if there is “open library” time at your child’s school library. If so, ask if your child might get books that are of high interest to him. He might love books about dinosaurs, space or sports. Going to open library would be a perfect way for him to begin “research skills,” such as using encyclopedias and the library computers. All librarians are happy to help eager young readers!

 

  • Make sure that your child has a public library card. Public libraries are a great, free resource and young children love to choose and borrow books. Take advantage of special events that occur for children at your local library.

 

  • If you have access to the Internet, or to electronic readers, appropriate level stories can be downloaded, usually at little or no charge. Some public libraries also allow you to “borrow” downloaded books. Once again, your librarian can be a great resource.

 

  • Don’t forget about writing skills. Reading and writing skills go hand-in-hand, but being an advanced reader doesn’t automatically make your child a good writer.  Buy a small notebook and have him keep a “Reader’s Response” journal. When he’s done reading a story, have him write the date, the book’s title, and author’s name, at the top of the notebook page. Help him summarize the story, including characters, setting and plot. It’s really fun for a child to go back and see all the books that he has completed, and read what he had to say about the stories.

 

  • Together, at bedtime, read higher-level books to your child. Find books that have chapters and few or no pictures. Read a chapter a night. Before starting the next chapter, have her tell you what has happened so far in the story. Then, have her predict what might happen next.

 

Activities like these help your child develop a lifelong love of reading. In addition, SchoolFamily.com has a variety of fun printable "All About Books" worksheets. What greater gift could you give your child than a love of reading?!

 

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What Does It Really Mean When A Child Is Learning Disabled?

Students who struggle in school are often misunderstood. On Monday, they might turn in work that is beautifully written and thoroughly done. Then on Tuesday, their work is practically illegible, only partially complete, full of misspelled words and grammar mistakes. I believe this is where the expression, “LD means lazy and dumb,” comes from. (Forgive me for even putting that in writing! It is one of my pet peeves. One can never know how hard a person is working.)

LD (learning disabled) actually means this is a person who is intelligent, but for some reason is not able to perform at a level that shows how smart they are. Many, many LD students work three times as hard as a student who does not have the same struggles. Yet, the quality of the product is often different from one day to the next. The inconsistency in work can be attributed to many things. Here are a few possibilities.

  • Problems with working memory. Read my earlier post on working memory and the one on cursive handwriting to understand how working memory issues can affect the quality of the final product.
  • Difficulty with reading. If the assignment requires reading for the purpose of teaching oneself or finding an answer, many LD students do not have the skills to make that happen. Therefore, the final product is often of poor quality due to exhaustion or trying to do multiple tasks at once (remember the question, read to find answer, hold answer in memory, write answer down, form the letters correctly, etc.).
  • Lack of enough practice before being asked to show mastery. Many times students are introduced to a new concept and immediately asked to show that they can do it on their own. Once they do master it, they can do the work just fine. But until then they might turn in low quality work.

What can you as a parent do to help?

Working memory problems can be helped by dividing the task up into steps and writing each step down before proceeding. For example, if your child is asked to write a quote analysis in literature, she should first write down the steps to a quote analysis. Then, she should attempt to write the analysis. This keeps her from having to keep so much information in working memory.

Reading problems can be alleviated by either reading the material to them or relying on technology solutions such as Natural Reader or digital books (like on Kindle or Nook).

If the problem is lack of enough practice, then practice is the answer. Unfortunately, this means you may have to help your child significantly on a particular type of problem before expecting him to do it on his own.

There are many reasons for inconsistent quality of work. Do not make the mistake of assuming your child is not trying. Try to figure out what is keeping them from producing their best work. Then take the necessary steps that lead to improvement. You may need to engage the help of your child’s teacher and the school psychologist.

 

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Helping Kids By Reducing the Demands on Working Memory

Note: Please read Livia McCoy's earlier post that defines working memory, before reading this blog post. Otherwise, it may not make much sense!

Imagine that your daughter has not mastered cursive handwriting. This is a likely occurrence since we are not really teaching cursive handwriting anymore! For homework, she is asked to write a story about going to the homecoming dance, and her teacher mentioned today that she would no longer accept work written in manuscript. 

Your daughter is hearing her teacher’s voice, “Students, remember that all homework must be either typewritten or in cursive! No more printing. That’s for younger students.”

Your daughter begins working on the assignment, but she has difficulty coming up with the story. She spends all her time trying to figure out how to form the cursive letters (her brother is using the computer). 

This is an example of how working memory space is completely filled up with the task of forming the letters, and there is no room left for actually coming up with the story. 

How can this problem be solved? There are several things you might do to help your daughter.

Consider taking dictation for the story. This allows her to free up her working memory to be creative.

Have her copy the story in cursive. This allows her to use her working memory capacity to practice her cursive.

Use voice-to-text software. If this tends to be a reoccurring problem, she might benefit from using voice-to-text software to do the writing. This option does require a computer.

Make sure she’s an expert computer user. Making sure she has access to a computer every day is very important for her.

We are learning more about working memory and how important it is for success in school. But, similar strategies to those mentioned here can help overcome working memory problems. It depends on what skills are deficient and occupying the working memory capacity.

Please share your own experiences: What strategies you have tried with your child that have been helpful?

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4 Ways to Help Reluctant Kids With Research Papers

Students in my Science, Technology, and Society class are just beginning to work on their research papers. Mark (name is changed, of course) was particularly stressed about choosing his topic. He said things like, “I am not interested in anything that I can actually find sources of information on.” Or, “I can’t write 8 pages on this topic.” I tried to calm him down a little and encouraged him to begin thinking that he could do this paper. He said, “My glass is never half-full. I’m a half-empty kind of person.”

 Students who struggle in school often feel defeated before even beginning. Mark’s attitude came across as anger. He seemed angry with me for giving him this project, and he also seemed angry with himself. This is probably the result of past failures on similar tasks.

Here is how I plan to help Mark:

  • Break this project into smaller chunks that he can do. “First, let’s pick a broad area of interest. You like computers, don’t you? Let’s look for articles that talk about some controversy related to computers.”
  • Help him find sources of information that he can read and highlight on his own.
  • Meet with him regularly to keep him on task. This will be especially important as he begins writing, because I believe his real fear is whether or not he can write a paper that long.
  • Encourage him on a regular basis. “Mark, look how much you have already done!  What do you need to do next? Are you feeling a little better about this paper? You can do this, Mark. It’s hard work, but you are up to it.”

If your child is behaving similarly, it might be worth using this approach with her at home. A call to her teacher can help you clarify what the expectations are for the project. It is important to remove the emotional block that is keeping her from even starting by asking, for example, "Okay, thinkwhat comes first?"

If he is successful with one project, he may feel more capable when starting the next one. If not, provide the same support until he begins to take charge of his own learning.

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What If My Child Refuses To Do Homework?

More than once parents have asked me what to do when their child refuses to do her homework, with a refrain that goes something like this: “This math is stupid. When will I ever use it? I’m not going to do it.”

I believe that students naturally want to learn. Therefore, when I hear a child say this, I automatically think he is having difficulty doing the work. It is likely he is trying very hard (or has been trying), but does not know how to do it. It is much easier to say, “I don’t care,” or “This is stupid,” than, “I am trying very hard, but I can’t do this.”

Children in this situation feel like they are stupid and a failure.

I believe the first step for helping your child who is refusing to try is to help her understand that it is okay for some things to be very hard to do. I have been working with a student who was saying very often, “I am stupid. I can’t do math.” First, I told her that she is not allowed to say that any more—and gave her a list of alternatives she can say.

 

It's okay to say:

  • “Math is hard for me.”
  • “I am not good at math.”
  • “I hate math.”
  • “I have to work harder at math than anyone else in the world.”

It is not okay to say:

  • “I cannot do math.”
  • “I am stupid.”
  • “I am a failure.”

 

The second step, after doing the above to help the child change her mindset, is to get help. The student I am working with is now getting tutoring in math. She talks out loud when she works through math problems. And, she has the opportunity to redo assignments that she fails. With these accommodations, she is learning and feeling a little bit more confident. She still hates math and probably always will. But, she is making some progress and will probably pass for the year.

For more suggestions about what to do when your child is having homework difficulties, read “What If My Child Can’t Do the Homework?”

To learn more about changing the mindset of failure, read “Change How You Praise Your Children to Assure They Reach Their Potential.”

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Kids Learn Skills Through Art

“Art is thought expressed through the hands.”

— Unknown author

Most young children are natural artists. Some of an infant’s earliest responses are to color, light and shapes. These responses help an infant recognize differences while exploring and learning about their world. This “learning through the senses” at a very early age helps a young child develop higher level cognitive skills, such as, reasoning, identifying symbols, and developing language.

 

Learning colors, recognizing shapes, and starting to “make pictures” in their minds are important pre-reading skills. Often, a beginning reader looks to the picture for clues about the words. 

 

Connecting art to learning is a great educational tool and something I use in my classroom every day. It’s easy to do at home as well.

 

Here are three simple artistic ways to help your young child become a better reader and writer.

 

Create an “Art Box” in your home.  Fill a cardboard box with crayons, old wallpaper scraps, ribbon, glitter glue, construction paper, markers, stickers, scissors, etc. Bring it out on stormy days and let your child have creative fun. Working with different textures, shapes, and substances helps improve her fine motor skills.

 

Children love working with rebus sentences. A “rebus” sentence is a combination of pictures and words. On a piece of paper draw an “eye,” a “heart,” write the word “my,” then draw a “dog.” Have your child read the sentence to you.  I love my dog.” Then have him draw a rebus sentence of his own for you to read.

 

Save your old catalogs and magazines. Let your child go through them to find, cut and glue pictures that start with specific letters. Begin with an easy letter. For example, on the top of an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of construction paper write the letters “Bb” Then let your child look through the catalog or magazine for pictures that begin with "Bb" (upper case and lower case). Periodically do this activity for all letters. When the alphabet is complete staple the papers, in alphabetical order, and your child his or her own creative book.

 

Art is a universal “language” that often makes a dramatic difference in developing reading and writing comprehension.

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How to Help Your Child Improve His or Her Vocabulary

For children to be successful in school, they need a strong vocabulary.  This especially helps them to understand what they are reading.  Experts tell us that children need to read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books and to have specific words directly taught to them.  They also need to understand how to learn words on their own, and they should spend time playing with language in a variety of ways. 

 In Narrowing the Language Gap: The Case for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction, authors Kate Kinsella and Kevin Feldman provide a model for vocabulary instruction.

 They tell us to:

  • Make sure children have the opportunity to pronounce the words they are learning. One idea includes posting the word on the refrigerator, and having parents ask their child to say the word they are “playing with” on the fridge, making sure they pronounce the word correctly.  It is best if this is done informally—in conversation rather than making it seem like schoolwork.
  • The next step is to make sure the child understands the meaning of the new word.  The language used to explain the word should be familiar and easy to understand.  If the word of the day is “melancholy” the parent might say, “Marcus seems somewhat _____ today,” allowing the child to fill in the blank.  Then the child can come up with a sentence that uses the term appropriately.  The parent could also ask, “Do you feel melancholy today, or do you feel cheerful?”
  • Next, provide examples of how the word might be used in other contexts.  For example, a parent might say, “I got a letter today with some melancholy news.”  Then the parent could ask the child what that means and ask him to try to elaborate by making more sentences that use the word.

These strategies can become a game in your household.  Vocabulary words can be written on index cards once they are learned.  Then the child can choose a card and see if they can use the word correctly in a sentence.  Or, children can earn stars when they correctly use a new vocabulary term in ordinary conversation that they think of on their own.  Ten stars might earn a special treat such as ice cream or a trip to the local park.

Remember that it takes multiple encounters with a word before it truly becomes a part of a person’s vocabulary.  So, continue to use the new words in everyday conversation when appropriate.

There are many websites that will give you a word of the day; you can find them by searching on the web. Or, check out this free "Word of the Day" app for the iPod from VocabDaily.

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Do Children Still Need to Learn Cursive?

Cursive Last night at Parent's Night, I had a conversation with parents of a student new to our school. The father said his son is so excited that he was going to "get to learn cursive"! Word is that many schools have had to remove cursive instruction from the curriculum for several reasons. The reasons relate to time taken from other more important subjects and the question of whether cursive is needed any more in today's digital world. At my school, we teach cursive because we feel it is helpful to students who have specific language learning disabilities.

Teachers everywhere have strong opinions about this. Some feel that being able to write legibly in cursive is part of being literate. They state that there are many historical documents that students will not be able to read if they do not learn cursive. (If you don't learn how to write in cursive you won't learn how to read it either!) One teacher states that she feels it is extremely important for her students to learn cursive. Despite the argument that it is no longer needed, she said that very few of her students have access to computers at home; and, there were very few available to students during the school day. Others feel it is time to let it go, and the only people who are hanging onto to it are "living in the past."

For an interesting discussion about this, go to Should We Still Teach Students to Write in Cursive?

I would like very much to know how you feel about this. Do you want your child to learn to write in cursive? Why? Why not?

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Using Text-to-Speech Software to Proofread

Summertime writing projects are a great time to work on proofreading skills. My students hate to proofread their work! I guess it's because it takes longer to finish it if they take the time to proof it. However, it is a wonderful skill to have. One thing about proofreading though -- it is really easy to read right past an error when you are the one who made the error. I am not quite sure why that is. One thing that helps with this is to use text-to-speech software to read your work back to you.

The first step is to get the software you need. You can get free text-to-speech readers online. The voices are a little mechanical sounding, but they are decent and get the job done. See Computer Assisted Reading for more information about text-to-speech.

Teach your child that the final step before calling their work complete is to have their reader read it back to them. It is important that they watch the words as the reader speaks. When they hear an error, they should stop the reader and correct it. I tell them to back up to the beginning of the sentence and have it start reading from there. That way they can make sure that the correction is what they meant to put in.

Students can catch most of their errors this way. It cannot catch homonym errors because the words sound the same, but for the most part their work will be greatly improved if they use this technique.

By the way, our teachers use this method when proofreading their reports! It works for them, too.

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Frustration Free Creative Writing

Boy with notebook When young children first begin to write stories they often get frustrated, and need help spelling the "big words." Here is a way to help your child overcome this obstacle and let creative writing flow.

You will need:

  • A standard sized notebook
  • And pencil or pen

Together, talk about subjects that interest your child. For example, your child might like Planets and Space.

Here's what to do:

  • At the top of a notebook page put the heading "Space."
  • Brainstorm, together with your child, words that relate to space such as Earth, Saturn, rocket ship, astronaut, etc.
  • Print each word, on a separate line of the page. Be sure to use one capital letter and the rest lowercase. You or your child could draw a small sketch, next to the word to help identify it, if needed.
  • Add headings and words to new pages, for new subjects. Dinosaurs, Trucks, Ballerinas, Skateboarding, Reptiles, Airplanes, could be some examples.
  • Keep the notebook in an easily accessible place, and together add to it often.

The word list reminds your child of what she wants to include in her story, as well as subtly introducing referencing and dictionary skills.

And, not having to worry about spelling the difficult words, frees your child to focus on the story details.

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Fourth of July Kids Activities that Nudge Kids out of Their Comfort Zone

 

Last night I went to a mom’s night out. You know, the night where you go to connect with other moms, get a break from the kids and where, inevitably, all conversation turns to talking about your kids. Last night’s topics: what our kids are doing for the summer. Camps, jobs, summer reading programs, trips to the beach and spending time with grandparents topped the list. One mom, however, said something that stuck with me. She said that she was going to “use the summer to nudge her kids out of their comfort zones.”  She went on to say that she felt like her kids had fallen into “family roles” and that she hoped to get them all out respective ruts. Interesting. This got me thinking. Most families fall into this trap where kids get labeled ...  Suzy is the athletic one... Bobby is the artistic one. She has a point. Sometimes, kids get comfortable with these "labels" so they don't necessarily try new pursuits. Huh. 

So, what better time than summer to coerce your kids to try something new? And since the July fourth weekend is a long weekend, it's a great time to start! Here are a few activity ideas to add to your Independence Day fun and gently nudge your kids out of their comfort zones:

For your “I don’t do sports" kid: create a backyard obstacle course. There is something about handing your kids a bunch of materials and a stop watch to create the course, that kids just can't resist.  Better yet, let your kids choose the materials to create the course. Maybe they are creative enough to give it a patriotic theme! Be sure to make it all about personal best. Activities like this help kids realize that they don't have to play on a team to enjoy physical activity. 

For your child who likes video games more than you would like: introduce them to good, old-fashioned card games. They may just be surprised that this low-tech way of having fun is as habit-forming as video games. I highly recommend the spoons card game for your child who doesn’t like to lose. This is a great family game that teaches kids how to laugh at themselves! I have such fond memories of playing spoons at the picnic table at summer cookouts. 

For your “I can’t even draw a stick figure” kid: introduce them to splatter painting a.k.a. firework art and have them create placemats or t-shirts for your Fourth of July festivities. If you're someone who is a bit, umm, controlling when it comes to kids and messes, this July Fourth activity might require you to move out of your comfort zone. But trust me, it will totally be worth it!  OK, so they make a mess, but that’s half the fun. If you don’t use the word craft, your child might actually enjoy this creative endeavor and discover they have an artistic side after all.                

For your “it’s all about me” child encourage them to think about someone else this patriotic holiday.  The  Operation Care Package program has a neat suggestions of ways kids can help out our troops. Maybe their website will motivate your kids to start a sock drive for the troops this weekend.

For your reluctant writer: have them create a Fourth of July scavenger or treasure hunt! Most kids love trying to come up with clues for other kids, so they won't even realize that they are writing.

Do you have any ideas of ways to draw kids out of their comfort zones? We'd love to have you add to this activity list. Whatever you end up doing this weekend, we hope you have a fun and safe Fourth with your family. 

 

 

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Publish a Memory Book with Your Child

Here is a special way to help your child remember the fun of their Kindergarten or First Grade school year. Try making a "Memory Book" together. By asking a few simple questions, you can help your child create a "published" book to keep for years to come.

This book can be hand-printed by an adult, or typed on a computer. Your child will be the author and illustrator.

Here’s what to do:

  • Use standard 8 1/2 x 11 inch white copy paper
  • Start with a title page in larger print, for example "Kindergarten 2010/2011 by Megan Kelly"
  • Start to create content with a question like, "What was your teacher’s name?" Write or type their answer at the bottom of the page, and let your child draw and color a picture of their teacher above the text.
  • Ask a question for each new page. Here are some examples:
    • "What was your favorite subject?"
    • "Who was your best friend this year?"
    • "What did you like best about your classroom?"
    • "What was your favorite book?"
    • "What did you like best in math?"
    • "What was your favorite lunch?"
    • "What was your favorite computer or math game?"
    • "What do you know now that you didn’t know before?"

Be creative with your own questions

Let your child illustrate a page or two a day. This book can be stapled together, punched with holes and tied with ribbon, or kept in a plastic folder. Your child will have a wonderful keepsake...and you will learn a lot about your child’s school year!

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Voice-to-Text Software = Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing

Girl with microphone For several years I have been experimenting with voice-to-text software for my students who have difficulty writing for themselves. The students who need it the most had very little success with it! Well, actually I didn’t have success with it, either. I would say something and it would insert so many errors that it would have been faster to just type it myself!

And, then.....along came a free app (Dragon Dictation) for iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad that works great. I downloaded the app, dictated several sentences, and the software translated it to text perfectly! (Your device needs a microphone to allow you to record, so if you have an older iPod Touch you may need a microphone you can plug in.)

It is very easy to use. When you open the app, there is a red icon in the middle of the screen that is labeled "Tap here and dictate." When you touch that and start speaking, it records up to 20 seconds of your voice. Then you select "Done," and it processes the recording and sends it back as text. You can keep adding more and more to it to create a long document if you need to. It responds to commands like "period," "comma," "exclamation mark," and "new paragraph," as well as many of the commands that their Dragon Naturally Speaking software allows. See it in action here.

If it does have an error in the translation, you can tap the screen and delete the word or open the keyboard to make the correction yourself. I encourage my students to email the document to themselves and cut and paste it into their word processor. From there, they can use text-to-speech software to listen for their errors! What a great combo!

Best of all, Dragon Dictation is free! Try it out to see if it works for your child.

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Educational Uses for Sticky Notes

Sticky Notes I think "sticky notes" are one of the world’s greatest inventions! Their educational uses can be fun and creative. Young children love working with them. Here are four ways to use these helpful notes to inspire reading, writing, and math skills.

For reading:

  • They make great bookmarks. The notes can be easily moved from one page to the next as your child progresses through a book. Best of all they don’t fall out!
  • They can be used to eliminate the "Oh, I didn’t hear you" excuse. As your child begins to read, use them for simple reminders of chores or family rules. For example, stick a note on the TV screen that says, "No TV until after homework."

For math:

  • They are great for making large, visual bar graphs that young children can easily understand. For example, after visiting the zoo, write the name of five animals that your child saw on the bottom of a poster board. Above the animal’s name, put one sticky note for each of the animals observed. Three lions, three notes, one above the other. When the chart is complete, your child will clearly visualize the total number of animals seen and start to comprehend the concept of graphs. Use the graph to compare "most," "least," or "How many more monkeys did you see than lions?"

For writing:

  • Make a simple "flip" book with about 6-10 sticky notes. Place the sticky side of the notes to the left. On the bottom of each note, write a direction word, "up," "down," "over," etc. Have your child make a small picture to show the word. Stack the notes together, and hold them on the left side. "Flip" the pages for a simple animation book that your young child will love, and want to "read" again and again.
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Use Greeting Cards as Story Starters

Collaborating with colleagues is a great way for professionals to exchange successful ideas. Recently, I met with my college friend, Elaine Scott, who is a retired first grade teacher. Of course we were "talking shop" and she shared a simple technique to encourage reluctant writers that was very successful in her classroom. These ideas can easily be used by parents to encourage writing at home.

  • "Save the fronts of greeting cards," she advised. "You can use them as a springboard for writing." Using these cards provides a topic. (Not to mention you are recycling!)
  • "Have your friends save their cards too. You would be surprised how fast your collection adds up," Elaine continued. "Seasonal cards can be used the next year."
  • Place the card on the top of construction paper with a writing page underneath. Children can then choose what paper they like, and write about what is on the card.
  • "You can also use them to teach parts of speech," Elaine added. For example, by placing the card on top of a paper with three columns underneath labeled noun (naming word,) verb (action word,) and adjective (describing word.)

For some children "getting started" is the hardest part of writing. They don’t know what to write about, and this causes anxiety. Thanks, Elaine for these simple and effective ideas to help young children become good writers!

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016